Between Iran and the U.K., guess which one is only allowed to show about half of English Premier League matches live. If you guessed Iran, you're wrong. The U.K. broadcasters can't show about half of their own league's games.
Yes, Iranians can watch all the EPL games they want. Pretty much the entire Middle East can. Same in Thailand. If you live in the U.S. like me, perhaps you've enjoyed NBC's excellent coverage of every single EPL game, either online or on NBC/NBC Sports. If you live in a country outside the U.K. that has rights to the EPL, odds are you can see every game. But not in the U.K. In the U.K., the busiest time slot -- the 3 p.m. matches -- are not allowed to be televised. The closest analogue would be if the NFL didn't allow 1 p.m. kickoffs to be televised, in which case, considering the reaction when Sunday Ticket experiences technical difficulties, I would expect torches and pitchforks.
This isn't one of those things where people have to pay extra, or something. They simply can't watch. At all. Its radio, live commentary, or nothing.
The Premier League says on their official website that they do not sell the rights to the 3 p.m. kickoff times in the U.K. "primarily in order to protect match attendances and atmosphere", which is pretty vague and, in regards to the protect-match-attendance bit, doesn't quite hold water considering the league as a whole was at 97% attendance last year. This shouldn't come as a surprise because, in case you haven't noticed, it's a popular league.
The prevailing theory is that "The Premier League do not allow TV companies to screen Saturday games kicking off at 3 p.m. to protect attendances at lower league games." This, at least as a theory, is statistically possible, as few Championship clubs peaked 75% attendance last season. Of course, the idea that people just want to watch some soccer, any soccer, and will go see a lower league club because they can't watch the EPL matches of the day is not necessarily true.
Take America, for instance. MLS is a natural experiment of sorts, structuring their season to run during the summer when it mostly doesn't compete with European leagues. The result, for this year at least, is a league-wide 80% attendance, give or take. Their TV figures remain paltry, with the 2012 MLS Cup getting out-watched by a replay of Chelsea-Liverpool shown that same day. Or, consider baseball. National and regional television contracts have not destroyed the fabric of the minor leagues. It's not a perfect analogue, but between MLS and MLB, the picture is pretty clear that leagues stand on their own merits, not as a substitution for others.
If U.S. soccer fans choose not to watch a lesser version of the sport (sorry, MLS fans, you know it's true) even when no soccer-specific alternative is present, and instead do other things with their time that *gasp* perhaps aren't soccer-related, then maybe the whole premise of not showing the 3 p.m. time slot games is flawed. Or, as much as we despise them in the U.S., maybe a blackout-like rule mandating a minimum attendance for the local lower clubs would be a better solution for the EPL rather than showing no games at all.
Legitimacy of the decision aside, it's truly incredible EPL fans in the U.K. put up with this so quietly. I had a friend from England visit me recently, and he informed me many people follow their favorite team's matches on BBC Radio. Radio! In 2013! What would you do if you had to follow your favorite team via radio? I imagine it wouldn't actually involve a radio, but the aforementioned torches and pitchforks.
Then I thought those people may live only a few miles from the stadium -- even see the outside of the grounds, perhaps -- and they can't watch the game live. Meanwhile, I live an ocean away, and I was watching four games at once last weekend. It's their league, really, and yet we get all the benefits. Sometimes, life just isn't fair, I guess.